A Student's Guide to Women's Suffrage

The ability to vote in an election is a fundamental right in most democratic countries. Voting ensures that all citizens of the country have an equal say in how the country is run and who it is managed by. However, it wasn't until the early 1900s that this right was extended to women. Before 1893, only men were allowed to participate in government elections, as it was assumed that only men would take an interest and a responsibility in politics. A woman's role was assumed to be within the home, caring for children and looking after the household. It took the campaigning efforts of hundreds of brave individuals to make women's suffrage a reality and to upend an antiquated view of gender inequality.

Worldwide Beginnings

Before the suffrage movement began in the 1700s, it was extremely rare for women to be permitted to vote. The only exceptions were Catholic abbesses, or special appointees when a male delegate was unable to attend a meeting. Women in North American tribes, like the Iroquois, held the same voting rights as men, and could even act as chieftains of a tribe. This forward thought, unfortunately, did not enter European society until the late 1700s, when the first vocal calls for women's suffrage came from France during the French Revolution. France did not win women's suffrage until 1944, but the attention drawn to the topic helped other countries establish suffrage. New Zealand, then a British colony, won the fight for women's suffrage in 1893. Its sister colony, South Australia, followed in 1895. By 1918, all British women over the age of 30 were granted their right to vote. The first European country to introduce the concept of women's suffrage was Finland. Women's suffrage was granted in 1906, and the following year, Finland elected 19 women as parliamentary representatives. This bold move was followed by Norway and Denmark, who granted equal rights to women in 1913 and 1915, respectively.

The United States and Canada

The rumblings of American suffrage began in 1840 with the chance meeting of two women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were both in attendance at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. They, along with other American delegates, were refused seats due to the fact that they were female. Eight years later, at the Seneca Falls Convention, Stanton presented a Declaration of Sentiments. The document was inspired by the Declaration of Independence and called out the male-governed society of the United States on the denial of basic rights to women, such as the right to vote on laws to which women would be subject, the right to one's own wages and property, and the right to pursue a collegiate education.

In 1869, the new state of Wyoming granted women the right to vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment, drafted by Stanton and reform activist Susan B. Anthony, was added to the United States Constitution. The 19th Amendment states that no citizen of the United States should be denied the right to vote based on their sex. Just above the United States, Canada would extend voting rights to its female citizens only five years later.

Canadian women's suffrage began with the establishment of the Toronto Women's Literary Club in 1876. Far from being the average reading circle, this club served as a cover under which women could discuss suffrage in safety. In 1883, it was renamed as the Toronto Women's Suffrage Association. Its members raised suffrage awareness by handing out postcards, collecting petitions, and even by staging debates. Manitoba was the first province to grant the vote to women, doing so on January 28, 1916. By 1925, all provinces, with the exception of Quebec, had granted women their right to vote.

Modern Day Suffrage

Today, women in most countries around the globe have been granted their right to vote. The women's rights movement is still underway, pursuing true equality of the sexes with regard to employment, property rights, and social standing. Unfortunately, there are still a few countries in which women are denied the right to vote, such as Saudi Arabia. The world has come a long way towards equality in the last few centuries, but until all citizens of the world have equal political rights, there is still work to be done.

For More Information on Women's Suffrage

This resource page is provided by Dr. Bruce Fagel for your information. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.